Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

By Lucy Mainwaring-Parr, Criminology Undergraduate.

Happiness is an elusive concept, a term used rather flippantly in daily conversations. It is seen as an “adult” goal and perhaps the most inescapable objective. However, as Hector shows, this idea is one to be challenged. I first watched this film in the midst of A-Level lows and, despite this being over a year ago, it’s a film I find myself returning to time after time. Directed by Peter Chelsom and based on François Lelord’s novel of the same name, Hector and the Search for Happiness is a simple, yet emotionally honest film.

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The story focuses on the character of Hector (Simon Pegg), a top London psychiatrist, who upon growing dissatisfied with his life embarks upon a global journey to find the elusive but desired happiness. His travels see him leaving behind his long-term girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike), as he travels to the elite nightclubs of China, an African town run by a quick-tempered drug lord, before finally arriving in the city of Los Angeles to visit an old friend working in neuroscience at a university there.

Hector and the Search for Happiness explores the relationships between fear, sadness and happiness: the complex balances in the psyche. Does happiness restrict the appearance of sadness or reduce it entirely? Is fear capable of negating happiness? Due to the exploration of such concepts this film can be seen as a distant predecessor of Disney’s trailblazing film Inside Out, which received critical acclaim for its nuanced exploration of the concept of emotional health. Returning to Hector, the cinematography can be described as charmingly infantile; it’s stripped back, comical almost. Yet at times the use of techniques, such as the projection of film onto a stone wall, shows a raw elegance as Hector’s most powerful memories play out amid his darkest moments.

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The story is often naïve and in places unnecessarily vague: where exactly in ‘Africa’ does Hector go? Nevertheless, Pegg’s charm as the eponymous character is compelling and his journey is complemented by a stellar cast, comprising of the likes of Christopher Plummer and Toni Collette. It’s a touching, introspective story of a man trying to find fulfilment at the risk of his own comfortable existence. Whilst Chelsom’s film may occasionally fall prey to cliché, it’s an emotionally rewarding watch – comical, dark and accepting of faults.

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